On 20 and 21 July 2018, the University of Birmingham and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) co-hosted an international conference, ‘Radical Mischief: A Conference Inviting Experiment in Theatre, Thought and Politics’.
The rationale for this unique event, attended by over 200 members of the cultural and higher education sectors, was that genuinely innovative theatre and academic debate have the potential to model change, thoughtfulness, and even a new democracy within our wider political culture.
‘Radical Mischief’ invited participants to come together and address the most important issues of our time in inter-disciplinary and sector-crossing conversation, experimenting with the traditional conference form, in order to facilitate and maximise conferring. The conference featured no uninterrupted, pre-written papers. Instead, each day, it hosted a provocative plenary conversation between high-profile figures with challenging views.
The conference then curated a series of focused conversations in different formats, led by artists and scholars. The provocations for these conversations broached a range of subjects, which included: race, religion, institutions, art, form, gender, violence, democracy, and difficulty and the public sphere. Each day finished with an Open Space session, in which delegates were able to propose conversation topics of their own.
Hosted by Erica Whyman (Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Ewan Fernie (Chair, Professor and Fellow of the Shakespeare Institute), ‘Radical Mischief’ featured an exciting mix of scholars, artists and journalists, in addition to the keynote speakers: Professor Jonathan Dollimore (Philosopher and social theorist); Emma Rice (Artistic Director for Wise Children); Professor Dympna Callaghan (William Safire Professor of Modern Letters, Syracuse University); Juliet Gilkes Romero (Journalist and Playwright); Charlotte Josephine (Actor and Playwright); and Professor Sir Roger Scruton (Writer and Philosopher).
It also provided the opportunity to showcase the University of Birmingham/Royal Shakespeare Company collaboration and encourage similar forms of collaboration between academics and artists.
Feedback from attendees:
I feel unbelievably inspired and courageous after that conference - I felt throughout that I already knew everything I was hearing (i.e. the information, the facts), but somehow the space you [Ewan Fernie] and Erica managed to carve out made me feel compelled to digest that information differently and allow it to transform my thinking and my practice (like any great performance art!). It was exactly what was needed here in Stratford, so thanks for all of your hard work!
Thank you for the best conference experience I have yet had. This conference has the potential to truly be radical, to uproot the current status of Shakespeare conferences and to blend the academic with practice in a way which, I believe, both crave, and which will ultimately benefit both fields.
If it’s true that the best conversations at conferences happen in the coffee breaks, then Radical Mischief was one long coffee break. The atmosphere was one of creativity and collegiality. The open space forum was embraced fully and an exciting agenda emerged which, rather unusually, focused on tangible, real-world outcomes.